According to the results of a study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, patients are resistant to learning about their genetic risk for breast cancer; however, communication with healthcare providers regarding their risk may influence their medical treatment decisions.

Breast cancer is a malignancy associated with the tissues of the breast. There are many factors that may contribute to breast cancer, including genetic mutation, age, and health history. Women with alterations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have an increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Healthcare providers often obtain a detailed medical and family history in order to help patients make important medical decisions based on the individual risk for certain diseases. Often patients misunderstand their risk as a result of their own health beliefs or because of risk communications conducted with their healthcare provider.

In this recent study, conducted from October 2002 until February 2004, 108 women received genetic counseling and risk screening for breast cancer and BRCA1 and 2 mutations. Surveys were completed before the counseling session and telephone interviews were performed one week after the counseling. The researchers’ goal was to determine if a change occurred in the patients’ perception of risk and the accuracy of post-counseling risk perception.

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Researchers found that the counseling significantly lowered women’s perception regarding their risks; however, their risk perceptions were significantly higher than the actual risk that was communicated to them regarding breast cancer or genetic mutations. Additional analysis revealed that precounseling perceptions regarding their risk of breast cancer was associated with precounseling worry.

Overall this research demonstrates that patients are resistant to risk information. Communication with a healthcare provider to discuss the patient’s actual risk may lead to a higher risk perception than is accurate. This type of poor perception may lead patients to worry unnecessarily and make different and potentially worse medical decisions than they would with an accurate perception of their actual risk.

Reference: Gurmankin A, Domchek S, Stopfer J. et al. Patients’ Resistance to Risk Information in Genetic Counseling for BRCA 1 / 2. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005; 165: 523-529.

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